45. Safe as milk

Posted on 12/04/2017

45. Safe as milk

I was brought up on a dairy farm. Milk is not particularly safe, as it can go off very quickly if not kept in a sterile and cool environment. the nicest thing about milk, for those who have been involved in producing it, is that for about 5 minutes after it emerges from the cow it has a wonderful nutty flaviour. That soon goes and does not return. So its a secret mainly known only to milk producers! Go and ask a dairy farmer for a try!

‘Safe as milk’ is a saying used ironically by Captain Beefheart for his first album. Anyone less safe than Mr Van Vliet (as his given name was) could hardly be imagined. His personality was always exploding around the place. He almost tortured his musicians if they did not get his very demanding music right.  He was quite unsafe. But he was also one of the most interesting musicians of the past century.

This is early Beefheart live. A few things which indicate that this is not normal popular music are:

  1. During a break in his singing Beefheart can be seen waving instructions
  2. He playfully attacks his lead guitarist during his solo, though smiling at the same time
  3. The final moment of the video shows Beefheart holding a US flag and saying ‘I may be hungry but I sure aint weird’ with a long emphasis on the ‘weirrrd’

He lived in a surreal world of his own, and so from his point of view it probably was not weird. Hard to say he was weirder than his friend and some respects mentor Frank Zappa:

Alex Winter Talks His Frank Zappa Movie And ‘Bill & Ted 3’

He was an astonishing man in many respects. He was a self taught musician but drilled whole bands to play precisely the music he wanted them to play, all the while doodling in his sketch books. After several decades of failing to make much money from music he became a successful landscape artist.

His lyrics were extraordinary too. This track is called ‘I’m going to Booglarise you baby‘ and its about a couple driving around unsuccessfully trying to find a place to stop and then have a go at the birds and bees. But they don’t make it, in the song at least. The first line quoted below is a striking image, as though the moon were liquid.

The moon was a drip on a dark hood
‘N’ they were drivin’ around ‘n’ around
Vital Willy tol’ Weepin’ Milly
I’m gonna booglarize you baby
I’m gonna booglarize you baby
If I can find ah place
T’ park my machine out ah town.

Compared to the early ‘safe as milk‘ it can be seen that Beefheart has modified the basic blues format he loved into something else. I cant make the Youtube video copy, so here is the audio. copy. It has a good hook, featuring his ‘exploding note’ theory. Do have a look at the video too: The bass player ‘Rockette’ is a wonderful mover.

Ice cream for crow was Beefheart’s last album before he gave up music for painting. One can see quite a bit of his art in the video. I have printed below about the first half of the lyric.
It’s so hot
Looks like you have three beaks, crow
The moon’s so full
White hat on a pumpkin
You know there’s something
The moon was a stone’s throw
Stop the show
I need to say hello to the crow
Light the fire piano
The moon showed up
And it started to show
Tonight there would be ice cream
Ice cream for crow
Ice cream for crow
Ice cream by night
Sun cream by day
The sun ain’t stable
Ice cream for crow
Crow pants the scarecrow
Crow dance ah ho ho
 From interviews he gave, Beefheart seems to have regarded most of his work as joking, suffused with a surreal  humour. By the time this video was made, two decades after his first, Beefheart looks a bit worn, and wears specs during some of the shots. His work remains as energetic and quirky as ever, but had probably given up hope of finding a big audience by this time. He became quite a famous painter.


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